Petty Principles for Novice Leaders in Higher Education, Part I

Although some leaders make leadership appear to be flawless, leadership positions in higher education are not for the faint of heart. While much literature discusses the characteristics of leaders, I rarely find any about teaching aspiring leaders how to approach their roles. I received my first leadership opportunity at the tender age of 26, having recently completed my master’s degree. “Who in their right mind would give a 26-year-old a leadership position to oversee staff and a multimillion dollar budget?” you may ask. My response is simply that someone was willing to take a chance and groom the next generation of leaders, trusting that millennials were here to stay. I must admit I was terrified—not of the position itself but of leading others. I had never been in a leadership role before, to say nothing of one in which I would oversee adults twice my age. I barely had savings, and now I was responsible for managing a grant for more than $2.5 million dollars. In retrospect, I wanted to know everything there was to know about my position and higher education, and honestly, the fear of not knowing consumed me: the fear of my team asking me questions I would not know the answer to or my not knowing what to do when something went wrong. Cliché has it that hindsight is 20/20, everyone must start somewhere, and everyone needs someone to believe in them. Even now as an assistant provost, I reflect on this role and realize how much I’ve learned and grown. These Petty Principles are specifically for new leaders who have the anxieties, fears, and doubts I once had. There are two parts to these Petty Principles: what to do and what not to do as a novice leader. I hope you find my experiences eye-opening and humorous and can learn from the petty mistakes that have transformed into my Petty Principles.

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